Appeals Court Opens the Door to Expanded ADA Claims

Each year Jerry Doran travels 550 miles from his home in Cottonwood, Calif., to visit Disneyland. In 2004 his annual vacation hit an unpleasant roadblock. Doran, who is mobility-impaired and uses a wheelchair-accessible van to travel, stopped at a 7-Eleven store in Anaheim only to find that the store had no van-accessible parking, its wheelchair ramp was too steep for him to ascend and a mat obstructed the entryway, making it impossible for a person in a wheelchair to enter the store.

Doran waited outside while his companions went into the store for him. But he didn't forget the experience. When he returned from his trip, he sued for injunctive relief under Title III of the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA) and for injunctive relief and monetary damages under California law.

"It's one thing when a suit is brought against a 7-Eleven," Miller says. "But on a large property such as a seven-story department store or a 1,000-room hotel, this really opens a Pandora's box."

Threshold Issues
The first line of defense to the coming surge of Title III litigation is to address any issues outside your facility that might inspire a litigation tourist to take a closer look.

The ADA and Unruh Act describe a large set of specifications with which all places of public accommodation must comply, such as the width and demarcation of parking spaces, the placement of signs designating spaces as reserved for individuals with disabilities and the type of door handle that should be on front entryways. A suspicious exterior often clues in an enterprising plaintiff that more violations might be inside. Auditing the outside of the building for compliance is an important first step to reduce the risk of litigation.

Adele Nicholas

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